Developing the talent of tomorrow

Sellafield Ltd’s head of corporate affairs says the UK’s largest nuclear site is nurturing skills and growth

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Towards the end of last year, the US Business Roundtable, which represents the leadership of major companies in the US, revised its traditional outlook on corporate purpose. No longer would the sole goal of corporations be the pursuit of shareholder value. Instead it laid out a more socially responsible agenda that takes into account the needs of the communities in which they operate, the environment in which they prosper, investment in the workforce, customer satisfaction, and the interests of suppliers.

It is an agenda that has been at the heart of Sellafield Ltd’s philosophy for a long time, and in fact across the wider Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) group. We have always set high standards that place social impact front and centre. And as one of the largest industries in the North of England, our project is integral to the economic future of the region and its workers.

With 11,000 employees, and many thousands more employed in our supply chain, we are the UK’s largest nuclear site, and we are delivering one of the most important environmental remediation projects in Europe. As a subsidiary of the NDA we are ensuring the safe and effective clean-up of the country’s nuclear legacy.

But our guiding outlook ensures we deliver for the wider community as well. We are at the forefront of the Northern Powerhouse, and as an enterprise based in the North of England, we see a huge amount of promise in the project and believe we can make a significant contribution in making it a success.

As an endeavour to rebalance the UK economy and improve the North’s economic prospects it is something we will always be directly or indirectly involved in. We have a financial footprint in many local authorities, most of them in the North, and in Copeland we account for 59 per cent of the total gross value added in the local economy.

We are a £2bn-a-year business, and we want to make sure that those massive levels of investment have the most positive impact possible on Cumbria, the North, and the UK as a whole. Our social impact programme, based on the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, looks to create shared value – for workers, for communities and for the environment. Part of that is through our continuous investment in skills and training. The nuclear sector is a good employer. Remuneration is good and the skills we require from our workforce are extremely high.

That is why, in a region that is often associated with low-wage, low-productivity employment we are a beacon of good practice. We invested £10m into a new education campus in Whitehaven. This leveraged a further £23m with which to build a state-of-the-art school in the largest town closest to Sellafield. Concerned about educational attainment in schools in West Cumbria, we have developed links with local schools that promote excellence in education and help equip the next generation with the skills they need to build careers, whether in the nuclear industry or elsewhere. This has seen us develop a scheme that invests £1.7m into West Cumbria’s schools so that attainment in every classroom can be raised. We have over 100 graduate trainees and up to 700 apprentices at any one time. In addition, we also fund an apprenticeships programme for non-nuclear organisations.

Where we have found market failure, we have been proactive in addressing it. Our Project Academy has trained over 1,000 people in the project management skills necessary for our mission. This is what all modern companies should be aspiring to do, approaching their problems holistically, and in partnership with relevant public, private, and third sector agencies.

Our supply chains are going to be an even more important part of our business in future. We are working to make sure that the massive cash injection that we put annually into the economy is felt as widely as possible. We are cleaning up the Sellafield site, and, of course, that is our number one mission. But there is huge potential for Cumbria to enter the £250bn market for decommissioning around the world, and so our expertise, experience and skills can become a global export. The Sellafield site is recognised as one of the most complex in the world. We have addressed this by developing some of the most advanced, high-tech engineering solutions to be found on any nuclear site. So the Sellafield supply chain is in an ideal position to go and help other countries and other companies, with a fantastic calling card to go and advertise the achievements at Sellafield.

I am a third-generation Sellafield worker. When I was Member of Parliament for Copeland I always championed the industry and the people in it. It may seem incongruous, but I am a vegetarian environmentalist, a former shadow environment minister and perhaps in the past that could have seemed unusual for an advocate of the nuclear industry. Needless to say, I do not see it that way. Nuclear is going to be essential if the country is to meet its Paris Agreement climate commitments. But it is more than that: The positive effects we have on local economies, communities and our workforce are profound.

Key to making the Northern Powerhouse a reality is delivering highly skilled employees into high-quality jobs for our future. And this is what we have to offer at Sellafield. It is all sustained by our commitment to people and the region, and our guiding philosophy of responsibility and partnership. The work that we are doing to spread the benefit of Sellafield Ltd’s activities is a passion of mine, because what is good for Sellafield is good for the North, and what is good for the North is good for the UK.

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